Those who were "driven mad" by a simple but long TV ad during
the Spring Festival had better turn off their
televisions during the Lantern Festival Thursday, as the ad is set for
a festive return.
The one-minute TV advertisement by the Shanghai-based
Hengyuanxiang Group Co., Ltd, China's leading textile enterprise
and an official Olympics sponsor, stunned audiences with a still
picture of the Beijing Olympics logo, red characters
"Hengyuanxiang" and black smaller ones saying "Beijing 2008
Olympics Sponsor" on a white background. This childishly simple ad
then had 12 animals appear, from the Chinese animal zodiac, which
jumped out as children intoned the animals' Chinese names.
The ad was televised during the Spring Festival golden week from
Feb. 6 to Feb. 12 on six domestic channels, including the
influential Shanghai-based East TV and entertainment-oriented Hunan
The ad drew wide criticism.
"At first I thought to myself, has my television been infected
with a virus?" said a netizen nicknamed Cinderella.
"Facing a white screen with 12 little animals hopping at me, I
really wanted to knock my head against the wall...was it a
nightmare?" said another netizen.
But officials with the world's largest woolen yarn producer had
their own interpretation.
"Our intention is to send New Year greetings to all the Chinese
people, who were born in the year of the 12 animals, and to make
people laugh," said Ding Xiuwei, media consultant with the
Hengyuanxiang used a similar ad in 1991. In the 15-second ad
made by the company's CEO Liu Ruiqi himself, the name of the
company was repeated three times, each followed by a cute child's
voice intoning "sheep, sheep, sheep", which implied Hengyuanxiang's
major products were made of wool.
"It was the ad that inscribed the brand on Chinese people's
minds, thus saving the old brand," recalled Bai Hai, manager with a
multinational company in Beijing, whose name he declined to
Later Hengyuanxiang tried other ads, but the change didn't seem
successful. "Even I couldn't remember those ads. Do you think they
have a big influence?" said Li Wei, controller of the company's
Hengyuanxiang developed the original ad in 2005, when it became
a Beijing Olympics sponsor. A "Hengyuanxiang, cow, cow, cow" ad was
televised by China Central Television (CCTV) for eight days. Cow,
or Niu, means excellent in Chinese.
The short-lasting ad did not incur much criticism, but was not
Another reason why Hengyuanxiang made such an ad this Spring
Festival was financial.
"The company paid off all its debts by the end of 2005. This
time we sponsored the Olympics, it was like buying the company
again," said Chen Zhongwei, Vice General Manager with the
"Each cent should be spent well," he said, "our aim is to have
the brand remembered. Condemned is better than forgotten."
Privatized in 2001, Hengyuanxiang saw its sales totalling four
billion yuan (about 563 million U.S. dollars) in 2005 and 4.5
billion (about 634 million U.S. dollars) in 2006.
Officials with the company didn't disclose the cost of the ad,
but according to an estimate by Yuan Fang, associate professor with
the Advertising School of the China Communication University, it
might be between 10 million and 20 million yuan.
"The ad immediately pushed the company to the center of people's
attention and into the media spotlight. Seen from this aspect, it
is successful," he said.
Liu Zhengju, production manager with CCTV's economic channel was
tolerant. "Among the 144 enterprises who had sponsored the Olympic
Games through its history, only one-third could be remembered by
people," he said, adding his hope that Chinese people would support
an old domestic brand, help it develop and go abroad.
"Liked or not, the ad is lawful," said Lu Zhian, associate
professor with the School of Laws of the Shanghai-based Fudan
University, "it is understandable for enterprises to promote
themselves with the Olympics."
The ad, lashed as the "most stupid in history", was not the only
one of its kind -- an ad for a washing-up liquid, called Fuyanjie,
drew heavy criticism and an advert for a medicine called Naobaijin,
literally Brain White Gold, has also driven people so mad that they
have complained vociferously on Internet messageboards. However,
the products sold well.
Fuyanjie soon became a famous brand, and Brain White Gold whose
ad featured two dolls as an old couple singing and dancing in an
amusing manner, has led in domestic personal healthcare market for
years. Its sales topped 1.5 billion yuan in 2006.
"They could sell well, but not for long," said Li Guangdong, an
expert in brand strategy, "famous companies rely on their brand,
not the product. Such poorly designed ads would ultimately taint
His view was shared by Yu Hai, sociologist with the Fudan
University. "Unlike Fuyanjie and Brain White Gold, Hengyuanxiang is
an International brand and should always protect its image," he
"Most of the Chinese advertisements lack creativity. I have
travelled abroad, and I found some ads in foreign countries quite
impressive. It is suicidal to push a brand into the world arena
with such ads," he said.
The long ad is to appear again from 7 a.m. Thursday to 1 a.m.
Friday on East TV 41 times.
"After that the first round of shows is over," said Li Wei from
Hengyuanxiang smilingly, refusing to disclose when the second round
would take place.
(Xinhua News Agency February 21, 2008)